The Cleansing of the Temple: The Gospel According to John, Chapter 2:13-17

Paul Zahl wrote once that the Holy Spirit interacting with mortal man is very analogous to the interaction between living magma and the environment at the surface.

Magma, (Lava when it gets to the surface of the Earth) is about as close to an irresistible force as can be found in nature as humans experience it; it devours or melts all in its path. The only thing that can contain it is the interaction itself. The same interaction inevitably cools the lava, so that it becomes as the other rock, and even a dam or plug against a fresh outpouring.

The Temple was to be the place where man could look to God. Being creatures of flesh and matter, time and space, seeing even the transcendent God “on our own turf” so to speak, was important for us. But what was envisioned as the living presence of God cooled into human systems, administrative procedures, and bureaucratic structures. Even with the best of intentions, that is the way we work, and of course, we rarely operate with consistency from “the best of intentions.” The merchants around the Temple weren’t any better than we are about that.

Semper reformanda or “always being reformed” was one of the professions of the Church during the Reformation, along with the Five Solas. It was not a new thought; St. Benedict had, approximately a thousand years earlier, formulated as a centerpiece of his Rule for Monastic life, the vow of Continual Conversion.  I do not know any Greek. but I have been told that in John 3:7, when Jesus says “… you must be born again” the verb tense is of an active, ongoing process. Continual.

As I understand him, the Rev. Dr. Zahl was expressing the opinion that, for the people of God to continue to act as expression of God, there must be a continual flow of this magma or lava, from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, as in some volcanoes in Hawaii, the flow is unimpeded. It is still white-hot, destroying all in its path as it makes and remakes the island, but the flow is steady. In other places, the flow is plugged. A new eruption is explosive, like Mt. St. Helens, or Mt. Vesuvius, or Krakatau, or All Saints Day 1517. And the Channel of the Spirit of God was deeply blocked in the Temple as center of Worship in 1st century Israel. It was inevitable that it should become so, it’s what we do.


As a more contemporary parallel, I have sadly noticed something I think common among ministries which have a radio broadcast presence. I expect TV works much the same, but I can’t speak to that. They start with perhaps a gifted teacher, and a desire to reach a larger audience for Jesus.

Radio time is expensive, and that broadcast requires money if it is to continue. It is not unreasonable to ask those who like the broadcast to help support it financially. There are several such ministries I have appreciated over the years, and from whom I have purchased various CDs, books, periodicals, etc.

It has become apparent that the offering of these materials is about, not just the sale of materials, but about populating a potential donor list, which may then be bombarded with print, email and telephone solicitations, “newsletters,” and other requests for funds. I am now leery of communicating with any such ministry in any fashion, lest I become a target on such a list.

My point is not that such ministries are illegitimate, they are not. It is also not wrong to appeal for funds to carry on a good work. But I get the feeling that the cart and the horse sometimes swap places. Whereas at the beginning, the plan was to collect funds so that the ministry could continue; now, the (still very good) teachings should continue, so that the funds may continue to be raised. The preacher has become the product. The funding is the objective.

In Jerusalem, it seems to have been the same. There were many good reasons to sell animals at the Temple – Good Jews came to sacrifice from all over. It was much easier to travel with a little money than with a sheep. Buy the lamb when you arrive. Even sell your own lamb, travel with the proceeds, and buy the new one in Jerusalem. Of course, you may have to convert foreign funds – where better to do that but there at the temple? All very practical and reasonable.

But the cart was before the horse – instead of the merchants and vendors and bankers existing to serve the people of God as they came to worship, the worshipers existed so that they may serve and feed the merchants and bankers.

They, and we, take the system, and make it about us.

Because that’s who we are.
It’s what we do.
It’s the opposite of Worship.


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Filed under Bible, Christianity, Church, Gospel According to John, Theology

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